Thailand’s COVID numbers climb higher and higher every day. There were over 18,000 new cases and 133 deaths reported in the kingdom today. As Thailand’s pandemic issues are bubbling to a boiling point, so are its political issues. Protests in the name of democracy, vaccine availability and policy change pop up across the nation on a weekly basis regardless of growing COVID health concerns. In an attempt to keep the demonstration momentum high and yet safe, activist organisers have cleverly begun using cars and motorbikes to aid in protest social distancing.
Earlier today, over 30 provinces in Thailand witnessed mass car mob demonstrations. Five groups organised the synchronised events, including political activist Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak’s United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration. Organisers say the coordinated event’s purpose was to work toward removing Thailand’s prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and to gain access to quality COVID vaccines. As of today, 5.2% of Thailand have been fully vaccinated and Prayuth and the Thai government are being blamed for Thailand’s low vaccine numbers.
In keeping with today’s nationwide car mob, Lamphun participated in the protest in a big way. Over 300 motorbikes and over 200 cars hit the streets to call for Thai government reform and vaccine access. Lamphun is a rather unique protest location because of its small size; the entire province having a population of just over 400,000. Organisers say they chose Lamphun as a car mob destination to help encourage activists that wouldn’t normally have access. Liberate Lamphun and Wilar Party were the two primary organisers for the event.
“The government has fallen down. It’s the worst,” said Goong, a 42 year old Lamphun resident, “I joined this car mob today because it’s low risk to catch COVID. I want to change the prime minister of Thailand!” Goong was riding shotgun in a massive green Jeep as it cruised down the streets of Lamphun. The back of the vehicle was packed with protestors dressed in scrubs who were holding handwritten signs. “I want to change this government,” said one of the men in the back, “I want to kick the government out. This situation is getting worse every day.”
The car mob caravan began at Bangkok Bank Ban Thi at 4pm and threaded its way through the city until 6pm where it ended at Tourist Centre Lamphun Municipality. All of the pro-democracy protest hallmarks were present at the event: 3 finger salutes, anti-government t-shirts and political speeches made on small speakers mounted to the back of pickup trucks.
A large Lamphun police presence guided traffic and pedestrians and the car mob made its way through the city. Goong said about the watchful police, “I’m not scared of the police because I don’t think I’m doing the wrong thing. If I get arrested I don’t care because my family understands my actions and the people that I brought with me are my responsibility. If they get arrested it’s my responsibility. I don’t think I’m doing the wrong thing because I’m participating in the name of democracy.” Along with most of the cars present, Goong’s license plate was covered with tape to conceal her identification from authorities.
Generous protesters handed out snacks and drinks to anyone in need. Pedestrians and shop owners watched as the cars and motorbikes buzzed and cheered along the road ways. The event was live streamed by countless protestors and activists. By 7pm one last microphone announcement was made and the car mob dissolved onto the main highway.
The organisers scored a victory in terms of gaining more participants. The car mob’s social distancing methods were not perfect but it did indeed keep those activists who wanted to stay distant in attendance. And while the small northern city of Lamphun didn’t quite pull the tens of thousands of attendees that cities like Bangkok did, it did see one of the largest protest turnouts Lamphun’s seen in some time.
Goong said of the protest’s turnout, “If everyone engages in the protests, I think Thailand will change.”
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